Stone Age Cherokee (Monograph 12)

Home » Library » Monographs » Stone Age Cherokee (Monograph 12)

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

Daniel Boone, the wilderness explorer, found it necessary in 1799 to move again. Settlement had crowded in around him in Kentucky, so he loaded up his family and headed for Spanish territory across the Mississippi River to the lands that became Missouri. It was the back country he was seeking; it was a region of fur trappers and Indian traders; it was not a land of farmers and mercantile stores, much less roads. One-hundred miles south of where he settled along the Missouri River the French had been finding iron and lead ore in open pit diggings for fifty years. The smelted ore produced lead and iron metal of high enough value to make the overland transport to St. Genevieve a money maker. St. Genevieve, the first permanent settlement in Missouri, had been there since 1735 on the Mississippi River; it was a trading stop on the river. The great expanse of the back country of Missouri generally continued in a wilderness state occupied by Native Americans and a few hearty trappers and traders until the conclusion of the War of 1812. As late as 1814 Indians were attacking individual settler’s homes and killing the occupants. With the victory over England secured in 1815, the back country of Missouri became safe enough to attract yeoman farmers seeking new fertile lands for farming. The “back country” had become the “frontier.”

At first the travelers were subsistence farmers, folks following Indian trails into the wilderness and staking out a home. As more settlers came there became a need for mercantile stores. These would be located centrally in a settlement community, perhaps at the intersection of two crude roads. Perhaps the Snelsons came to their home this way in the mid 1820’s, just being subsistence farmers. But as Massey Iron Works developed and the road got busier, the Snelsons may have seen the commercial opportunity of selling supplies to the travelers. In 1834 the Snelsons sold the cabin to John Brinker and moved west to Little Prairie, just west of St. James, to return to farming on the newly opened rich upland. The roads likely became the limiting factor in frontier settlement and development, and as a result, the state government acted to stimulate the frontier development by improving infrastructure – by surveying for new and better roads.

These roads enacted by the Missouri General Assembly in the late 1830’s (St. Genevieve to Courtois Mines and Hermann to Shannon County) were prompted by the Missouri state government’s interest in more efficiently transporting equipment, supplies, and workers to a specific location on the frontier where they were needed – Massey Iron Works at Meramec Spring, an Iron Age marvel of synergistic natural resources and human imagination. On their removal journey, the Cherokees used both of these roads only secondarily because of the New Madrid earthquake. Paradoxically these same two roads that allowed essential transportation were used to usher away the Cherokees to a place of no value – just like they were perceived to be, as the Cherokees were thought to be remnants of the Stone Age.

The Reformation’s Protestantism condoned the taking of land if for a higher use. The U. S. Government sanctioned the taking of Indian lands and removal of those Sovereign Indian Tribes with the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans were removed by force from their sacred homelands, all giving up their historic lifeways – many giving up their lives.

As a society today, would we allow that to happen? What protections are in place to prevent that from happening? Do we owe the removed tribes something for those actions 180 years ago?

3D Diorama Along the Trail of Tears

By William Ambrose

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Trail of Tears is generally the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  The General Land Office (GLO) surveyors, those earliest government surveyors who surveyed the unsettled frontier lands ahead of any land sales, were required to draw the existing roads on the township plats beginning at about the time they surveyed the western half of Missouri.  The Springfield to St. Louis Road was pre-historic – it was a trace on the ground from Springfield to St. Louis used by Native Americans for travel for trade and hunting long before Americans arrived in the state.  The GLOs were the building blocks of President Jefferson’s rectilinear survey system, known as the Public Land Survey System, created by the Land Ordinance of 1785, a federal law. The system was laid out in 6-mile-by-6-mile squares, each square being known by its north-south “Township” number and its east-west “Range” number. 


By William Ambrose

From 1837 to 1839, the Federal Government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their centuries-old homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Cherokee families were rounded up at gunpoint by Federal troops, held prisoner in detention camps, divided up into detachments of about 1000 people, and then forced to walk the 1000 miles to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma. Approximately 4000 died during that process. 

If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email

Related Pages:

Leave a Reply